The Ramadan doldrums

For many of us residing in the northern hemisphere, Ramadan began begrudgingly. Starting last Tuesday or Wednesday or even Thursday, in some cases. We wake up at or stay up until dawn —around 3:30am —and struggle to adequately hydrate and nourish ourselves for the anticipated seventeen to nineteen hour fast in melt-your-face-off heat. We then open our fast with a quick meal before rushing to and through prayer so we can catch a few hours of sleep, only to get up and do it all over again.

Yet, as daunting as the first few days seemed, the whole process has already become quite routine, like a game of collecting token jannah points —one point for each prayer, double points for praying while fasting in Ramadan, bonus if you make it to taraweeh. And as much as I hate to admit it: I find the routine fairly uninspiring. I no longer feel excited or challenged at the prospect of the fast. After almost two decades of observing Ramadan, my body and my day adapt quickly to fasting, to the point where fasting feels almost automatic. Like many of my generation, I have the luxury of sitting in a temperature controlled cooled space, reading and typing away on my laptop for most of the day, occasionally running out for an errand or a meeting —barely even breaking a sweat. By the end of the day, I do not feel like I sacrificed much nor learned anything new.

Call it a first-world problem or simply Muslim yuppie fasting fatigue. The ability to find spiritual fulfillment, even in Ramadan, in a world that demands so much of your constant time and attention is hard. Going without food and water for a few hours is not. Taking time to disconnect and recharge is not only a luxury, but often ends up being seen as a weakness or an irresponsible indulgence.

I began fasting regularly when I was about ten-years-old while living in Pakistan. It was an exciting challenge because up until that point I had only managed “kiddie” fasts —half-days and weekends with my parents’ encouragement. At school in Pakistan, though, “keeping roza” was an unofficial rite of passage and no one wanted to be the only one not fasting at lunch. I felt proud of myself for being able to accomplish this feat of maturity. Back in the States, in high school and college, fasting during Ramadan became a marker of my identity, subtly defining who I was to a crowd that was largely not Muslim. Graduate school and past work often had me surrounded with vibrant Muslim communities where fasting brought about a feeling of mutual struggle and spiritual camaraderie. Ramadan was a time to catch up with old friends at an iftar or make new ones at taraweeh and I was actively a part of organizing something that facilitated that.

This year marks my first post-wedding Ramadan in a new city, managing unfamiliar territory and fulfilling polite obligations that leave me feeling a bit unsettled. Perhaps it is the lack of the familiar that exposes my flawed faith or the fact that the extended fasts leave short rushed nights so I feel I have not accomplished more than simply a ritual.

It is this fear that my faith has become a tokenized ritual that keeps me fasting this year. As a veteran roza keeper I no longer need the challenge of the physical fast itself and I no longer feel the need to prove myself to others around me. I also value the rare time I have to myself to reflect rather than socialize. My new challenge this Ramadan is to find fulfillment simply by being balanced in my faith, re-centering myself to manage my spiritual and material relationships so that I do not feel like a jannah point junkie. Perhaps, as a Muslim, this is simply part of growing up.

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Nadia S. Mohammad is an Assistant Editor at Altmuslimah.

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